3190. Robert Southey to John Taylor Coleridge, 8 September 1818

3190. Robert Southey to John Taylor Coleridge, 8 September 1818⁠* 

Keswick. 8th Sept 1818

My dear Sir

I am glad to hear that you have taken your chance for happiness in that state in which alone there is a chance of finding it. [1]  Men in your station are too xxx frequently let the proper season go by, waiting till they can afford to start with a showy establishment, among those who have not more than an ordinary share of good principles this is a very common cause of libertine habits, & they who escape this evil incur another which is sometimes not less fatal. They look out for a wife when they think themselves rich enough, & this is like going to market for one; the choice on their part is not made from those feelings upon which the foundation of happiness must be laid, & on the other part they are accepted not for their own sakes, but for the sake of the establishment which they offer. Similarity of disposition is not consulted, & there is generally in such cases a disparity of years which is not very likely to produce it. You have chosen a better course, & may God bless you in it.

The most profitable line of composition is reviewing. You have good footing in the Quarterly, & I am heartily glad of it, for heretofore there has been vile criticism in that journal upon poetry & upon fine literature in general. This connection need not xxxx preclude you from writing for the British Review; – & I think our excellent friend John May could introduce you to it, thro its quondam Editor Weyland, [2]  or if that channel should be closed it is possible that I might find one. Translation is of all literary labour the worst paid, – that is of all such labour as is paid at all: & yet there are so many poor hungry brethren & sisters of the grey goose quill upon the alert, that new books are sent over from France & Germany by the sheet as they pass thro the press, lest the translator should be forestalled.

Any thing which is not bargained for with the booksellers is of course matter of speculation; & success is so much a matter of accident (that is to say temporary success) in literature, that the most knowing of the Cormorant tribe themselves are xxx often xx as grievously deceived as a young author upon his first essay. Biography however is likely to succeed, & with the London libraries at hand the research required for it would be rather pleasurable than toilsome. History, which is the most delightful of all employments (experto crede [3] ) is much less likely to be remunerated, – I have not yet received so much for the History of Brazil as for a single paper in the QR. [4]  But there are many fine subjects, which if well handled might prove prizes in the lottery. A history of Charles I & the Interregnum, – or of all the Stuart Kings upon a scale of sufficient extent, & written upon such principles as you would bring to it, xxx would be a valuable addition to the literature of our country & useful to others as well as honourable to yourself. [5]  – Venice offers a rich story, & one which, unhappily, is now compleat. [6]  Sweden also is a country fruitful in splendid & memorable events: for this indeed it would be necessary to acquire the Norse languages. – Sharon Turner acquired them, & the Welsh to boot for a similar purpose, without relaxing from the neglecting the duties of his practise. [7]  It may almost be asserted that men may find leisure for whatever they seriously desire to do.

Your friend & his companion made good use of their time in this country, but they did not allow themselves time enough. [8]  They were good specimens of improved Oxford, & if our Universities send forth ma[MS missing] such men, we are safe. I fear you have delayed visiting us too long: you should have given us one of your holydays while you were ‘without incumbrances” as the advertisements say. Now, a journey to the Lakes will be adjourned sine die, & the chances are that when you come with your family years hence, – either Wordsworth or I, or not improbably both of us, many have taken wing for heaven.

I look upon your promised leg of mutton & John May as a bonne bouche. [9]  My business when I visit London is to see as much as possible of my friends, & keep out of the way of my acquaintance. Thank you for the College extracts concerning Wesleys father – you will see them figure in a note, – for they happen to be of more use than such niceties are in general. [10] Hartley is here, muzzing (in Westminster language [11] ) for his degree. Derwent came home to see him, as he is doing well in his situation, [12]  much improved, & nothing can augur better than the disposition which he had shown to provide for himself. Mrs C. desires me not to forget her remembrances to all at Ottery – present mine also to these who xxxx xxx remember me. & believe me

Yrs faithfully

Robert Southey.


* Address: To/ John Taylor Coleridge Esqre/ Ottery St Mary’s/ Devonshire
Stamped: KESWICK/ 298
Endorsement: R. Southey Keswick/ Sept 12th. 1818
MS: British Library, Add MS 47553. ALS; 4p.
Previously published: W. Braekman, ‘Letters by Robert Southey to Sir John Taylor Coleridge’, Studia Germanica Gandensia, 6 (1964), 112–114. BACK

[1] On 7 August 1818 Coleridge had married Mary Buchanan (1788–1874). BACK

[2] John Weyland (1774–1854; DNB), barrister and MP for Hindon 1830–1832, was the founding editor, in 1811, of the British Review and London Critical Journal. BACK

[3] ‘Believe me; I’m expert’. BACK

[4] By 1816, Southey was often receiving £100 per article in the Quarterly Review. The first volume of the History of Brazil (1810–1819) had as yet not produced £100 for its author. BACK

[5] A history of the reign of Charles I (1600–1649; King of Great Britain 1625–1649; DNB) and the Commonwealth 1649–1660; or down to the end of the Stuart dynasty in 1714. BACK

[6] The Venetian Republic had been divided between France and Austria in 1797 and its independence was not restored at the Congress of Vienna (1815). BACK

[7] Turner, a lawyer like Coleridge, had studied Scandinavian culture and literature when researching his History of the Anglo Saxons (1799–1805). He was also the author of A Vindication of the Genuineness of the Ancient British Poems of Aneurin, Taliesin, Llywarch Hen and Merdhin with Specimens of the Poems (1803). BACK

[8] Thomas Arnold (1795–1842; DNB), clergyman and later headmaster of Rugby School 1828–1841, had visited Southey with a letter of introduction from Coleridge. He was a Fellow of Oriel College, Oxford 1815–1819. His companion is unidentified. BACK

[9] A tasty morsel, a treat. BACK

[10] Samuel Wesley (1662–1735; DNB), father of John Wesley (1703–1791; DNB), was a servitor at Exeter College (a poor scholar who earned his keep at Oxford by waiting on wealthy students) – he did not matriculate until 1684. John Coleridge was a Fellow of Exeter College 1812–1818 and so had access to the College’s registers. Southey included this information in a footnote to his The Life of Wesley; and the Rise and Progress of Methodism, 2 vols (London, 1820), I, pp. 7–8, thanking ‘a fellow of Exeter College, through the means of a common friend [John May]’ for their help. BACK

[11] Westminster School slang for ‘swotting’ or ‘cramming’ – for his degree at the University of Oxford. BACK

[12] Derwent Coleridge had gone to live with the Hopwood family, well-connected Lancashire landowners, at Summerhill, near Ulverston 1817–1819. Robert Gregge Hopwood (1773–1854) had married in 1805 Cecilia Elizabeth Byng (1770–1854), daughter of John Byng, 5th Viscount Torrington (1743–1813). She was a first cousin of Georgiana Byng (1768–1801), first wife of Lord John Russell, later the 6th Duke of Bedford (1766–1839; DNB). Lady Russell had lived in Lisbon for two years for her health and was known to Herbert Hill. Derwent Coleridge was tutor to the Hopwoods’ sons: Edward (1807–1891); Frank (1810–1890); and Hervey (1811–1881). He continued in this post until December 1819, later becoming an undergraduate at St John’s College, Cambridge. BACK

People mentioned

Places mentioned

Keswick (mentioned 1 time)


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